A Guest Comes, Christ Comes
Stealing a truck to go on a drunken bender in town is not a common occurrence in the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine community in Abiquiu, N.M. Yet the after-hours misdemeanor was perpetrated not by one of the monks, but by a twentysomething participant in the series on the TLC channel called The Monastery.
Based on a popular British television series, the show follows five young men who agree to live according to the Rule of St. Benedict. For a reality show, the results are both predictable (participants bristle at unfamiliar practices like the Great Silence, obedience and common prayer) and unpredictable (a man struggling with addiction, long estranged from the Catholic Church, finds solace in the sacrament of reconciliation). The biggest surprise may be that a five-part series treating religious life seriously is on television at all. The Monastery addresses monasticism with great respect and, wisely, allows the monks to explain their life. Quotes from the Rule provide a helpful framework for the community’s action and contemplation.
Last year, an almost three-hour-long film called Into Great Silence (Die Grosse Stille), a wordless look at life in the Grande Chartreuse, captivated moviegoers in Germany. It is scheduled to open soon in the United States. Chalk some of this up to the craze for reality television, but even the most hardened agnostic would have a tough time arguing with the simple truth presented on TLC: the monastic life is a rich one and the monks look, for the most part, very happy.
It seemed more than coincidence that the Gospel reading on Nov. 8, the day Donald Rumsfeld resigned as secretary of defense, had Jesus asking listeners, "If a king is to march on another king to do battle with him, will he not sit down first and consider whether, with ten thousand men, he can withstand an enemy coming against him with twenty thousand?" While there never was any serious question about whether the American military had the manpower to overthrow Saddam Hussein, time and again Rumsfeld rebuffed the warnings of his generals that more troops would be needed on the ground to hold and rebuild Iraq. Even ignoring scandals like those associated with the names Abu Ghraib or Halliburton, our government’s treatment of its soldiersits inadequate support, inadequate protection and repeated extensions of deployment timehas been unforgivable and demanded the secretary’s ouster.
In the first reading for Nov. 8, Paul calls on the Philippians to work with anxious concern to achieve your salvation. At Mass we pray that the Lord will deliver us from all anxiety, but in our current political situation perhaps there is something to be said for a desire to do good that is tempered by a certain unease and hesitation. The example of Donald Rumsfeld illustrates the great peril of a confidence that is not self-critical and the disasters that can ensue when too much is taken for granted.
The debacle that Iraq has become confirms the practical wisdom of Jesus’ parable, a lesson the professional military had not missed. A generation of Americans will now pay the price for Mr. Rumsfeld’s obstinacy.
Humanity’s footprintthe demands human beings make on the natural world’s resourceshas increased so rapidly over the past few decades that nature cannot keep up in the struggle to regenerate. A new report by the World Wildlife Fund asserts that we are in what it calls serious ecological overshoot, with humanity no longer living off nature’s interest, but drawing on its capital. As nations upgrade the well-being of their people, especially the wealthy nations, far more resources are being used than the planet can sustain. At the present rate of consumption, rich nations will be unable to maintain their prosperity, and the poor nations will be held back in their development efforts. But positive change can still be achieved. With conservation, sustainability is possible in areas like forests, grasslands and marine life, and the footprint’s heavy tread can also be lightened through technologies aimed at reducing climate damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions.
Humanity’s footprint first grew larger than global biocapacity in the 1980’s, and the footprint has been increasing so rapidly that now the demand on the earth’s resources has exceeded supply by 25 percent. Africa and the Asia-Pacific region have been using less than the world average in per capita biocapacity, in contrast to North America and the European Union, which have crossed the threshold for excessive development. Vital choices must be made now, choices that will either lock the world into overconsumption or move its future generations toward sustainable living.
Another opportunity to prepare for the future even as we correct the failings of the past will be the negotiations this spring for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocols on global climate change. If the United States engages the process in a positive way, the third world giants, China and India, will inevitably come along as well.